The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) held a march attended by nearly 10,000 supporters in the capital city on Friday to mark the anniversary of February 8, 2012, when police were accused of committing many acts of brutality against its supporters.
The march is one of a series of rallies being held weekly on Friday afternoons, but stood out due to the huge number of participants and the theme of black worn by most marchers to mark a year since the controversial transfer of power.
Many of the party’s senior officials marched on the front lines. MDP MPs Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Ali Waheed, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, Mohamed Nazim, Mohamed Rasheed and Ahmed Sameer were among the leaders who participated.
Former Deputy President of the party Alhan Fahmy also participated in Friday’s march. Fahmy last year signed with Jumhooree Party (JP) and has been vocal against the MDP and its leadership. Minivan News observed some of the participants shouting ‘baaghee’ (traitor) upon Fahmy’s entrance to the rally grounds.
“The MDP is an open, liberal party. Incidents like this test our liberal attitude. We are able to be diplomatic and liberal, anyone can join these rallies. But then of course, people will have reservations about these things,” Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said.
MP Alhan Fahmy was not responding to calls at the time of press.
The marchers, under the banner “I condemn the coup d’etat'”, marched against police brutality and impunity. Starting near the MDP rally site – currently locked down by the police under a High Court order – the march proceeded on the same route as it took a year ago.
The demonstrators came up against a police blockade halfway into the march, near the local market area, and forced their way through two separate police lines to approach the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) area.
Demonstrators came to a halt about 10 feet from the final police cordon, which blocked entry into the Republican Square. The march then took a detour through side streets and reconvened on Fareedhee Magu.
Minivan News did not observe any physical confrontations between demonstrators and security forces, who maintained a high presence in the area. However, Minivan News journalists were initially refused entry behind the police lines despite other media personnel active in the area.
The demonstrators continued to shout slogans against police, and many held placards with messages against the “coup government” and police brutality.
The march concluded back near the MDP’s protest site at Usfasgandu. Some senior MDP officials spoke to the gathered crowds before the rally ended.
Speaking at the rally, MP Ali Waheed said the MDP would henceforth come out to protest with the attitude of “an eye for an eye”, and that the current “coup government has 30 days to do what they will. The MDP will start our most intense actions within this time.”
“The numbers we saw today are far more than what we saw even on February 8 last year. I believe people now have a higher resolve to bring an end to this coup,” said MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.
“I believe protests will become more aggressive in future. People are fed up of the blatant impunity with which the police operate,” Hamid said, but added that any resistance would “happen within the framework of rule of law.”
Some acted against the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act: police
Police have said that four police officers were injured due to demonstrators throwing objects at them and had to seek medical attention.They further said that the police were analysing video footage taken during the march to identify the perpetrators of these acts, and that legal action would be taken against them.
“Some of the protesters had their faces covered, while some also damaged the chains on the MNDF monument near the National Monument. These are acts which go against the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act,” Superintendent Abdulla Nawaz stated at a press briefing held Friday night.
Nawaz noted that parliament members had also participated in the march, adding “MPs should know that such events should be conducted within the legal framework. They should also demonstrate this to other people.”
Police have called on the public to demonstrate within the rights and freedoms granted by Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act and the Constitution of the Maldives.
The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act is a bill redefining restrictions on assembly which was recently ratified by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
Meanwhile, MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor stated that the party had noticed that police had exercised more restraint during today’s march in comparison with recent other demonstrations of the same calibre.
“We noticed that police were in a more rational mood,” Ghafoor said, “They were not confrontational despite protesters getting rather aggressive.”
“People’s attitudes are one notch higher when it comes to standing up against police impunity. People are getting more impatient. There is an overall lack of respect for the police institution,” Ghafoor said.
“I think this is people’s way of showing that we’ve had enough. Groups of police would muscle into crowds and drag away people they hand-picked. I think people have crossed the threshold into no longer accepting such acts, and not accepting police brutality and police impunity any more.”
Similar demonstrations took place at the same time on Friday on other islands across the Maldives, including the islands of Kudafaree and Velidhoo.